For the grieving person who has lost someone (to death or other reasons), there is a lot of unknown in the grieving process. For a while, everything makes you want to cry or react in anger. As the months progress, though, you probably aren’t crying every day. Oftentimes, there are triggers that set off grief. These triggers can come at unexpected moments, probably because there are so much emotion and memories involved.
Some triggers for grief seem obvious (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries). Yet some are not so obvious.
Let me take a moment to share some triggers I’ve experienced as I’ve process the alleged murder of my Kindred Spirit, *Becca.
1. One of the strangest triggers is the way I react to movies and TV shows. America really likes crime shows. I couldn’t stomach them for months after Becca was allegedly murdered. I’d get so angry at the way entertainment so lightly passes over the victims who are usually murdered in brutal ways and everything is easily settled in an hour of television. Crime solved, detective is victorious, everyone goes on with their lives! Tell that to a victim’s family, who have to deal with the crime the rest of their lives. Even putting someone behind bars doesn’t solve the pain of the loss. I still don’t like crime shows or movies, and I try to avoid them. I can now be more okay watching them, but I still sometimes react in startling ways to entertainment that involves flippant violence or murder. I sometimes have to walk away from the TV set if my roommates are watching something that triggers memories. Once you’ve had something tragic happen to you, murder, crimes, and tragedy really isn’t entertaining anymore.
2. Another thing that is a trigger for me is weddings. I know this is weird, but the last time I saw my friend alive was at her wedding. It was a horrible wedding. I already could sense something was really wrong, but hadn’t yet put the clues together. She was allegedly murdered by a guy who was in the wedding party two short months later (at the alleged order of her husband). I went to a wedding about a year after Becca had died, and I was having flashbacks the entire time about Becca’s wedding. It’s not something I could control, and I tried very hard to enjoy my time at that wedding. Still, it was really hard.
The last eye contact I ever made with my best friend was when she tossed the bouquet at her wedding, and I caught it. I knew she’d throw it too hard, and it’d end up in the back. So I stayed in the back and got the bouquet. She looked at me, and I looked at her. One last true look. Just a few days ago, I saw a picture on Facebook of a bouquet toss, and I began to feel so much pain in the pit of my stomach. It took me a while to figure out why I was feeling such things about a simple picture that should evoke joy. And then I remembered…
3. Christmas break is another thing that really triggers pain. It’s not so much other holidays, but Christmas is hard. Becca wasn’t family, but she was like an older sister and mentor to me. We grew up in high school together, and when we both left for college, Christmas was most usually a time we got to see each other when we were both home. I made a concerted effort to see her often during the holidays. I was even planning a visit to see her again in December 2013, but she was murdered that October. It’s painful for me to know that I will never see her again during Christmas. Not just during Christmas break, but any time.
4. When I need prayer, it’s a trigger. When I need advice, it’s a trigger. When I need someone to look up to, it’s a trigger. When I want to feel completely understood, it’s a trigger. Becca was one of the most influential friendships/almost-sister/Kindred Spirits I’ll ever have. There are often times when I would’ve called her for advice and pour out my heart to her, knowing she’d be there for me and understand completely. We were Kindred Spirits, made of the same stuff, and we could just look at each other sometimes and know things. I don’t have another friend quite like her in my life. I’m not sure I’ll ever have one again. The hole in my heart will always be there.
5. Triggers happen in small ways every day of every month of every year. Sometimes, when I go through my phone book to choose whom to send texts to, I will still almost instinctively click on her name. I haven’t deleted her number yet. I just can’t. For a moment, I will pause and look at her name, and it will hit me like a bullet in my chest that I can’t ever send her a text or a phone call again. That no one will ever understand me like she did.
Triggers, my friends, happen often in grief. I write this simply to help others think about things that might trigger grief for themselves. I also write this to help those who know people who are grieving. To help them understand why a griever reacts strangely sometimes to seemingly unrelated events.
ADVICE FOR the NON-GRIEVER: When someone loses someone they loved, every part of their life is forever changed, altered, warped. Whether it’s simple things like sending out a text or big things like holiday plans, it’s something they have to live with the rest of their lives. Sometimes, their emotions seem to make little sense–especially after time has passed–but dig a little deeper, and it usually will make sense. Remember that when you interact with a griever.
ADVICE FOR THE GRIEVER: It takes time to figure out what could be triggers for you personally as you grieve, and to give yourself space and time to process these triggers when they happen. Take care of yourself and learn to become more self-aware. When you feel pain unexpectedly, try to stop and think and figure out why. Go back to the memories. Seek counseling if you need to. It will help you heal and process. If you don’t face the triggers, they will eat away at you unawares and may effect your life and relationships in negative ways.
So think about it.
What are your triggers?
*Name changed for privacy.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Jesse Kunerth